The Lady SaberCats took a huge step forward Saturday, playing their way into the finals of the summer volley tourney by flattening EHS in straight sets. It was a dominant victory in a big game, just the sort of confidence builder Vela can use as it seeks to recover from extensive graduation losses.
Vela was set to take on the winner of Saturday’s nightcap featuring Mission Vets and McAllen Rowe, the championship scheduled for Monday night. No matter what was to happen in that one, the Lady Sabes proved quite a lot but taking it to EHS with alacrity.
Actually, the early stretches of each set were very competitive and well played, as the Lady Bobcats got swatter Tianna Howard into the action. But as each set progressed, Vela took control, with sharper serve-and-return and very few holes in the fence.
Some new faces were paramount in the triumph for summer coach Autumn Ruiz, including junior Miranda Negrete, who pounded the ball at will and served like a veteran. Ruiz, the former Lady Sabes libero, also praised the steady play and coachability of junior Analisa Campos, who has gotten a huge opportunity this summer. Campos stepped into the setter role this month in lieu of Emily Espinoza, who was unable to compete in the league, and has done a fine job, giving the squad two viable options at the starter slot.
In the first set, Howard scored four straight times to begin but soon cooled as the team had problems getting back to front and into its plays. Vela countered with strong work by the burly Negrete and some sweet smacks from top prospect Glinys Maldonado. Vela ran to a 10-6 advantage and held it at 13-9 with springy Bianca Cortez doing her usual excellent work up top. Able to jump, block, and recover for another go (or another, she is indefatigable on the spring) as well as anyone in the Valley, Cortez was active in the semifinal match as was junior Dylann Guerra. The latter has gotten even better at diving and saving from the specialist spot, and these days her athletic saves are increasingly ending up in perfect position at net.
Cortez rose to block Howard on the cords for a 16-10 lead and soon it was 20-11, EHS failing to locate serves on the backline. Maldonado capped it at 25-18 with the Lady ‘Cats in a funk.
The same pattern occurred in set two, as Howard was hot early, only to see the ball muddled in back and not reaching the scoring position after a quick 4-2 lead. EHS led 7-6 until a 5-point Lady Sabe rush and from there, the Blue and Black gained steam for a 17-12 bulge. Renee Ponce contributed a superb overhead bump for a score but Vela was unfazed, getting eight straight service points from Negrete in finishing off the impressive sweep.
EHS was simply unable to find the groove against a Vela team that sent a message with the domination. The district title race this fall will be fiercely contested with both these teams in the mix. The Lady Bobcats had reached the semis with a revenge win over P-SJ-A Southwest while Vela had clobbered Edcouch-Elsa, also an avenging of a previously loss.
But with the berth in the finals on the line, Vela was clearly the better team, perhaps putting the lie to the scuttlebutt that had established the Lady Bobcats as the unit to beat heading into the 31-6A campaign in August.